How to Create a Fitness Program that Works for You

An instructor at the Physical Readiness Training familiarization course demonstrates the proper way to perform lateral movement drills. A Mobile Training Team from the Army's Physical Fitness School at Fort Jackson, S.C., visited the National Training Center to train Soldiers on the proper way to conduct PRT sessions. (Photo Credit: Giancarlo Casem, 11th ACR Public Affairs)

When it comes to deciding on what to do for a workout, many resort to magazine articles, website posts, social media memes, books, or recall “what they used to do” in their teens. Regardless of your age, goals, fitness levels, there are many elements to consider when creating a workout program for yourself or deciding to follow a trainer or program developed by trainers.

The Goldilocks of Fitness – Too Much, Not Enough, Just Right

Typically, during the journey of fitness, there is a “hit or miss” phase that occurs as you figure out if a program is working for you or not.  One way to miss results of a program is to skip days of training or adjust the intensity so much that it is too easy (not enough work). Another way is to add so much activity and intensity to a program that you over do it and either become so sore or injured and completely burn out in a few days / weeks (too much - too soon). There is also that realization that you dialed it in perfectly and you see a steady progression toward your goals (weight loss, faster run times, more reps, bigger muscles). This big thing to remember is that no one program works for everyone the same way.  

Even personalized training programs will have a phase of finding what works best for you as an individual. Generic programs can work for you, however, as with all programs you need to follow these steps to help you get the right results you seek:

1. Consistency daily effort / habit. – Without consistency, even the most perfectly designed fitness program will not work. Putting in the time, doing the workouts even when you do not feel like it, and building solid habits that get you training more is the most important aspect to this journey.  Even if your daily training is just to walk 30 minutes a day, your consistency and only your consistency will yield the results. Get moving and keep moving!

2. Are your Goals Weight Loss?  Many of us want to lose some weight and some NEED to lose weight in order to actually have healthy symptoms in annual blood work / physical tests. One way to do that is to realize it is rather difficult to outwork your diet.  Unless you are a highly active teenager / early 20’s, this wonderful time of being able to eat anything and as much as you want is not a reality as age starts to accumulate. One of the best ways to start seeing progress about the stomach, butt, and thighs is to work toward a Caloric deficit with significant reduction in sugar. Do not eliminate any macro nutrients (carbs, protein, fat). Unless you are a diabetic / pre-diabetic, carbs (fruit/vegetable) should be major part of your diet - as with protein / fat. 

3. Program Selection – Are you picking out a program that fits your goals?  Many books and training programs offer specific goals after completion. If the goals are performance driven (faster run, swim, more PT, PT tests, weight loss, weight gain) there is very little gray area to your improvement (or not) and the results of your efforts can be easily measured objectively. If the goals are more aesthetic in nature (more muscle, less fat, look better, etc) these results can be measured but are purely subjective and more focused on opinion versus fact. But if you think you look good in that bikini or speedo – go rock it then!

4. Perfect Balance Ideas - It is easy to over do it and get too aggressive the first week of a training program. It is also easy to get into a low intensity groove for too long and quit seeing results. Instead of doing something that is constantly challenging you on back to back days, perhaps, do something that is a little more intense every OTHER day with easier mobility, non-impact cardio, and flexibility days in between. This is a perfect balance between too hard and too easy programming that offers the body time to recover, grow, and see results. Make sure your routine has rest / recovery and mobility built in or at least suggested on "days off".

5. Accountability – Finally, when the days get too long and the mornings get too early, you need to have a way to hold yourself accountable.  Having a workout partner or someone who expects to see you helps with consistency over the long term. Maybe go to a workout class and have a coach / class be your reason not to miss. Because, if it is not in the schedule it does not exist and a workout is easy move around so much in a day that it is dropped due to life that get in the way.

About Stew Smith CSCS

Stew Smith is a Navy SEAL Veteran who supports the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).  He also has over 1000 articles on Fitness Forum and over a 100 Podcasts focusing on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.

As a writer on the tactical fitness topic, Stew creates multi-week training programs to help you prepare for any test, training program, or just lose weight and get fit for duty. has the answer.

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